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What Is the Seat Belt Defense?

seat belt defense

Knowledgeable Car Accident Attorney Explains

Do you often neglect to wear your seat belt? You may not think of the consequences most of the time, but if you are unfortunate enough to get in an accident, the seat belt is the one thing you will wish you had not forgotten to wear. Not only is the seat belt important for your personal safety, not wearing one can have legal consequences. You may be fined if you are caught, but that’s nothing compared to its negative impact on your personal injury claim.

What Is California’s Seat Belt Law?

In California, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act requires all occupants of a private passenger car, including the driver and passengers, to be secured by a safety belt. When it comes to limos and taxicabs, only front seat passengers are required to wear seat belts; however, seat belts must be provided for back seat passengers.

The state’s seat belt law states that if everyone in the car is 16 years of age or older, it is the responsibility of the driver to secure himself and tell all passengers to buckle up. If there are children under 16 years of age and their parents are not present, then again it is the responsibility of the driver to make sure that they are wearing their seat belt. However, if parents are present in the car, then it is their responsibility to ensure that their children are properly securely. Offenders may be fined from $20 to $100 if they are caught.

What Is the Seat Belt Defense?

Let’s say that your car was rear-ended by another car at an intersection, causing your head to slam into the steering wheel. You suffered a head injury, neck injury and severe cuts and bruises. The occupants of the car that rear-ended you noticed that you were not wearing your seat belt at the time of the incident. In the ensuing legal battle, the defendant can argue that your head would not have slammed into the steering wheel if you had been wearing your seat belt. This is a clear illustration of the seat belt defense.

The seat belt defense is based on a 1998 ruling which states that once the defense presents evidence showing that the plaintiff was not wearing his seat belt at the time of the accident, the court must instruct the jury on the seat belt defense even if the defendant presents no evidence showing a relationship between the failure to wear a seat belt and the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant does not bear the burden of proving a casual relationship between the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt and his damages.

If you were not wearing your seat belt at the time of accident, then comparative negligence applies, which means you may be held partially at fault for the injuries caused to you by the other driver. After hearing the defense’s argument and the plaintiff’s admission, the jury determines what percentage of the injury was the latter’s fault. If the jury decides that you were 55% responsible for your injuries, then you will receive only 45% of your compensation, even if the accident was completely the other driver’s fault.

Can the Defense Use the Seat Belt Defense in California?

Not all states accept the seat belt defense. In fact, the majority of states have rejected it. But California is one of the 15 or so states that allows the defense to use it. Therefore, you must always wear a seat belt when you are travelling in a car in California, regardless of whether you are the driver or a passenger.

Using the seat belt defense, the defendant’s insurance company can reduce the amount of damages you can recover for failing to wear your seat belt during an accident. This is why you should retain a car accident attorney who is well versed in personal injury law and can negotiate a full and fair settlement on your behalf.

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